Transitioning students back to school can be nerve-racking for any age. The COVID-19 pandemic created extra challenges for families during this time. For some students, it has been over a year since the last time they were in a classroom. For others, they still haven’t returned. In addition to increased stress, fear, and worry for parents about sickness, finances, and safety during the pandemic, children are struggling to adjust. As a parent, there are several resources for you to help your student adjust while going back to school.
Identify Your Student’s Mental State
Just like adults, children are experience higher levels of stress and anxiety during this pandemic. Transitioning students back to school can add to this. It’s important for parents to address student’s mental health and teach them how to manage it.
It’s important to ask your student how they are feeling, then validate it. Students could be feeling separation anxiety after a year of being together as a family nonstop, stress about entering a new way of learning or going to school in person for the first time, and anxiety about if the classroom is safe. Remember to stay positive when addressing children’s feelings and help them think of ways they can address it.
Scheduling family time reinforces relaxation and a sense of connection for children. It also encourages regular check-ins with your student to discuss the new challenges they face and create solutions to address them. Family time can be as simple as playtime in the backyard or as complex as a weekend camp trip.
Be Aware of Symptoms of Mental Health
Most students can manage their mental health well with the support of their families. However, not all children will have minor stress and anxiety. Know the signs of severe impacts on your student’s mental health.
- Preschoolers: thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinging to parents, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, fear of the dark, regression in behavior, and withdrawal.
- Elementary school children: irritability, aggressiveness, clinginess, nightmares, school avoidance, poor concentration, and withdrawal from activities and friends.
- Adolescents: sleeping and eating disturbances, agitation, increase in conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behavior, and poor concentration.
If you are unsure of how to help your child work through their mental health problems, consider seeking professional help.
Set Priorities for this School Year
Between managing your own struggles as a parent during this pandemic and your children’s, it is easy to be overwhelmed. The Child Mind Institute suggests families can lighten the burden of school during this time by focusing on one to three goals for the school year.
- Focus on the Basics: Wether a student is using the same learning style as last year or a new one, school is tough. Making the undesirable situation more positive for students by encouraging them to simply show up every day.
- Emphasize Core Subjects: Reading and writing, science and math, and physical education are the foundational academic areas that kids need to keep up with. Dial in which subject your student may need extra attention in.
- Consider Skills Over Activities: Not every remote learning, or socially distant activity will be a good fit for every one. That’s okay. The goal is your student learns and improves their skill set.
- Think Beyond Academics: School is meant to be a safe place for children to learn socializing, building independence and staying physically active. Schoolwork isn’t everything. Make sure your put your students psychological needs first if they are struggling with learning life skills.
Remember to trust your instincts as a parent. Parents know their students best. Whether it’s falling behind in reading or needing help staying connected with classmates during virtual learning, give your family permission to prioritize them. Every child has different needs.
Below is a list of other resources from parents, educators, and health experts to help with transitioning students back to school.
- U.S. Department of Education COVID-19 Resource Center
- U.S. Department of Education Return to School Road Map
- Texas Resources for Students in Special Education
- Leander ISD COVID-19 Dashboard and Resources
- The Child Mind Institute Family Support Resources
- National Alliance on Mental Health
- Mayo Clinic Mental Illness in Children